Test Drive: FireworX Studio Multi-Effects Processor from T.C. Electronic

Article Index

Presets and Editing

If you’re not the type that programs effects boxes, then you’re the type that uses the factory presets and perhaps makes a few adjustments to the factory settings and stores the edited version to a new location in the user bank. For you, the FireworX has a great selection of presets to play with. As you’d expect, many of the presets are designed for work with musical instruments or for singing, but there are several effects that sound like they were programmed just for us. Walkie-Talkie is a very realistic effect and the first time I’ve seen this one on an effects box. Devils Voice and Darth Vader are ready for your next Halloween or Star Wars promo. The Talking Machine uses the Vocoder and Synth blocks to produce a very mechanical voice effect great for any high tech type of production. Party Next Door will get you that low frequency, muffled music effect with the push of a button. And of course, many of the effects obviously designed for music application sound great as special effects on voice work or sound effects. A clever Filter function on the presets list display lets you see only presets that have, for example, a reverb effect in them. This is a quick way to scroll through 200+ presets when you know you want something with reverb and don’t need to see the rest.

Editing presets is simple. A glance at the twelve gray Effect keys tells you which effect blocks are being used. If you have a delay/reverb program loaded and want to alter the delay time, just press the Delay key twice (once mutes it), and the parameter page appears. Use the Parameter wheel to select a parameter and the Value wheel to adjust it. If you want to keep the change for later use, press Store to save in a user preset location.

Programming

The next step beyond just editing parameters involves editing the preset itself— adding and deleting effects algorithms, assigning modifiers to parameters, etc.. The manual is required reading here, but the reading is brief and easy to understand. And once you’ve read a few pages, you’ll be programming the FireworX like a pro. Press the Effects key to access the four Effects pages. You are given an 8x8 grid to work on. (The graphic displays are great!) Effect algorithms can be placed on this grid in series with each other or in parallel. For example, the input signal could feed a delay, which then feeds a flanger. Or, the input signal could be fed to the delay and the flanger simultaneously. The grid lets you see this layout which makes it easy to see what you’re doing. There are several options for wiring the effect blocks to each other, but the various graphic displays keep the process simple, as long as you understand the basics of signal flow. The oversized display on the FireworX has to be one of its best features.

The 8x8 grid can be sized to your needs in the Layout page. The Routing page is used to place effects onto the grid and set the I/O for each particular effect. How many effect algorithms can be used in one preset is dependent upon the total amount of DSP power used by all the algorithms in that preset. Rather than limiting presets to a finite number of simultaneous effects algorithms, the FireworX enables adding effects to a preset until all the processing power is used up. Say you wanted a pitched flange effect with reverb. The pitch algorithm will use about 20% of the DSP power. The flange will use about 11%. The reverb algorithms are power hungry and will use about 50% of the DSP power, leaving you with less than 20% DSP power available. You could add a panner, which uses 4% DSP power, but you couldn’t add a delay, which uses over 20%. You could add a dynamics processor, which only uses about 11% of DSP power, but you’re just out of enough power to add a filter or EQ algorithm. Warnings appear on the screen when you’ve exceeded your limit, and a selection in the Tool page lets you see where all your DSP power is going. The Tool page also offers several other functions that change the way things are displayed on the Edit page which help keep you informed of how the different effects blocks are connected to each other.

Some effects can only be present in a single preset once. Other effects can be there twice or three times, as is the case with Dynamics algorithms. You can have two Delay algorithms in a single preset but only one EQ, two pans but only one pitch shifter. The maximum delay time of a single delay algorithm is 1480ms. So, if you wanted a longer delay, you could program two delays in series with each other for nearly three seconds of delay.

The 8x8 grid is overkill but probably exists for the same reason bytes are made with multiples of 8 bits. Anyway, you’ll never use all 64 grid locations. The FireworX will run out of DSP power long before you get to effect algorithm #64. For most effects I needed, a simple chain of 2 to 4 effects in series was plenty, and it was fun to program this box.

For those wanting to get a bit more elaborate with their own presets, press the Modifier key. This accesses the Matrix page, the Modifiers page, and the Dials page. The Matrix page is where both internal and external controllers can be assigned to effect parameters. There are LFOs and ADSRs. A Pitch Detector analyzes the incoming signal and converts the pitch of that signal into control information. Envelope Detectors analyze the dynamic variations of the input signal and convert that to control data. Up to eight external MIDI controllers can be assigned. And there’s more. Of course, the Alpha Mod wheel is another very handy external controller (and it can be assigned a 20-character name that describes its function on the main display screen). The Modifiers page is where the modifiers themselves can be edited, and the Dials page enables using the Parameter and Value wheels to simulate any of the eight external controllers to test them without actually having them hooked up.

Summary

The FireworX appears to be a well designed, well built effects box for the professional studio. It’s a great unit for someone who wants to learn how to program effects for the first time, and it’s a very friendly box for the experienced programmer. The PCMCIA card slot makes this box valuable to today’s mega-station groups where FireworX units might be scattered around at various stations in the group. A quick transfer of presets to a card lets your favorite effects go “wherever the FireworX are.”

The FireworX can truly be called an effects box. Where others add a few extra effects around a ton of reverb programs, the FireworX does just the opposite. It strives to provide every other kind of effect available today and throws in two great reverb algorithms just in case.

As radio production races towards the new millennium, top notch producers will no doubt be looking for that new sound, that new effect, that new signature that will make their production stand out just a little more than the next guy’s. If you’re looking for that new sound, you just might find it in a box like the FireworX. It comes with a big enough variety of effects that can be combined in ways nobody has probably even thought of yet. And its long list of modifiers and modifiable parameters make this box a sound designer’s delight.

Specs on the FireworX include D/A and A/D conversion at 24-bit with 128x oversampling. At the analog outputs, the dynamic range is >100dB. THD is .005% @ 1kHz, frequency response is 20Hz-20kHz, and crosstalk is <60dB. The unit is 8.2” deep and weighs 5.2 pounds. Sample rates are 32kHz, 44.1kHz, and 48kHz.

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